We’ve heard promises from Gov. Jennifer Granholm before. In her final State of the State address on Feb. 3, Granholm announced that Michigan’s budget for the 2011 fiscal year would include funding for the recently cut Michigan Promise Scholarship. She didn’t offer a specific plan, but mentioned that “creative” funding would be incorporated into the budget to account for the scholarship. However, considering that original funding for the Promise was removed just two years after the so-called “Promise” was made, it’s difficult to believe Granholm’s assurance that the scholarship will be re-instated. The governor and state legislature should adopt a sustainable approach when formulating a new Promise Scholarship.
The Promise Scholarship was initially established on Dec. 21, 2006. The merit-based award provided $500 to $4,000 to students who scored adequately on statewide standardized tests and attended a two- or four-year institution of higher learning. But amid the state’s $2.8 billion budget shortfall, lawmakers cut the scholarship to save approximately $140 million on Oct. 30, 2009. Though the scholarship was in the governor’s initial budget proposal, she signed off on the cut, saying, “It is a budget I don’t agree with and don’t support,” according to an Oct. 30 Detroit Free Press article.
Higher education is vital for Michigan to pull itself out of the current recession. Michigan’s economy can’t be supported by the automotive industry anymore. It must shift to a science- and technology-based economy. To prepare the workforce for high-skill positions that technology businesses need to fill, more students must attend institutions of higher education. For that to happen, education must be made accessible.
But despite its importance, education has become less affordable. Here at the University, tuition has increased by an alarming 52 percent since 2002, partially due to cuts in state funding. Though the state is facing serious deficit concerns, it shouldn’t cut from education funding. The rise in education costs is made worse by the struggling Michigan economy, which has left many families more dependent on scholarships. The Promise Scholarship is essential to students and shouldn’t have been cut in the first place.
The state has a projected 2011 deficit of more than $1.6 billion, so a steady supply of funding for the scholarship seems far from assured. But if the state takes on the Promise Scholarship a second time, it would be inexcusable to let it fail again, because for some students, the difference could make or break the viability of paying for college. Reliable sources of funding must be secured for the Promise so that it isn’t cut soon after its establishment, leaving thousands of students without a resource that they count on. Granholm’s “creative,” alternative funding options should be explored to verify that the new scholarship stays financially afloat for more than a couple of years. Students shouldn’t be guaranteed a significant scholarship only to have it taken away once again.
Granholm must back up her words with decisive action to ensure that the legislature passes a budget in 2011 that includes a realistic plan to fund the Promise Scholarship. If the state pledges funding for the scholarship a second time, it must keep its Promise.